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Hiva Oa Island

Hiva Oa Island travel Guide

Hiva Oa Island travel guide

Image ©Sémhur, Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0

Hiva Oa – the garden of the Marquesas

Due to its lush, fertile environment, Hiva Oa is sometimes referred to as the “Garden of the Marquesas.” The island may be described as rugged, and if you’re lucky, you might come across one of the several archaeological sites that have survived for hundreds of years hidden away.

Hiva Oa feels far away and solitary despite having beaches and diving cliffs along its shores. There are places where travelers cannot see any evidence of civilisation, making them ideal for a hike away from the bustle of daily life. Additionally, the biggest tiki statues in French Polynesia are found on this island.

In French Polynesia’s Marquesan archipelago, Hiva Oa is the second-largest island after Nuku Hiva. The little island is known for its year-round lush vegetation, stunning mountain peaks, fertile valleys, and several prehistoric Polynesian monuments.

But for many European artists, especially Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel, who spent their final years here, Hiva Oa is also a place of longing.

There aren’t many flat coastline plains on the island, which is characterized by a rough mountain range that winds from the southeast to the northwest.

Additionally, the island’s coast is not shielded by an offshore barrier, allowing the powerful Pacific surf to hit the rocks and sparse black sand beaches unprotected. Therefore, Hiva Oa is only strongly suggested for beach lovers who love to travel.

This secluded, breathtaking location offers even more value for nature and culture enthusiasts with a sense of adventure because it also boasts the largest tikis in the nation in addition to great hiking routes.

How to get to Hiva Oa

Air travel via Papeete/Tahiti is the most effective way to get there. Five times a week, Air Tahiti offers flights from Hiva Oa, 882 miles (1420 kilometers) away. It takes roughly 4 hours to fly.

The 50-minute flight from the neighboring island of Nuku Hiva to the tiny airfield at Hiva Oa is another option for travelers considering a round-trip to the Marquesas.

Another method to view the island is on the 12-day Marquesas cruise on the cargo ship Aranui 5, which allows you to see all of the Marquesas’ most stunning islands in one trip and spend a day on Hiva Oa.

Getting around

There aren’t many motorized modes of mobility on land. The roads get worse as you travel further north. Renting 4×4 off-road vehicles is an option, but because the majority of the island’s roads are unpaved, you must be skilled at driving in the aforementioned conditions.

The island has a significant supply of guides and drivers, making guided trips simple to plan and the preferable choice for new drivers.

There are countless options to explore the coastline and nearby islands on boat tours, as many of the little bays are only reachable by water due to the rough terrain.

You can travel from Hiva Oa to the islands of Tahuata and Fatu Hiva via the public shuttle service Te Ata O Hiva. For additional information, contact the DPAM (Direction Polynésienne des Affaires Maritimes). If you are interested in the Marquesas, check ou also Ua Pou Island.

Best places to stay on Hiva Oa

Best Things to do in Hiva Oa

Cultural Center Paul Gauguin

There is a Gauguin and Brel cultural center in the heart of Atuona. The majestic wooden portal stands out in this recreation of Paul Gauguin’s cottage, which he called Masion du Jouir, or the House of Delights.

A modest museum with copies of 24 of his most well-known Hiva Oa paintings and some of the artist’s earlier possessions is located right next to it.

The grounds also feature a hangar where Brel’s aircraft Jojo is kept. In addition to the Beechcraft D 50 Twin-Bonanza, the hangar is home to several photos and ancient documents that detail the chansonnier’s time in the Marquesas and chronicle his life on Hiva Oa.

The center has varying hours of operation and a nominal entrance fee; it is important to inquire about admittance times when visiting.

Famous painter Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, a then-moderately successful French painter, left Tahiti in disillusionment in 1901 at the age of 52 and relocated to Hiva Oa. He expected a simple, old-fashioned life in the South Seas in Papeete.

But in fact, he discovered a colonial nation where the populace basically continued to live as they had in France. This disillusioned him, and he began to be drawn to the more isolated parts of French Polynesia.

He finally discovered what he was looking for in Hiva Oa: abundant, unspoiled nature, a straightforward way of life, and residents who still upheld Polynesian traditions and were mostly unaffected by the extravagant lifestyle in Europe.

Some of his most well-known paintings were painted while he lived in a tiny hut (1902). The great artist passed away at the age of 54 following a protracted illness, only two years after arriving on the island.

Belgíum singer Jacques Brel

75 years after Gauguin, in 1976, Jacques Brel, a world-famous chansonnier, made the decision to settle on Hiva Oa. He co-owned a tiny open-air cinema in Atuona and resided in a cottage there with his girlfriend Maddly.

He was already battling lung cancer at this point, and he was constantly aware of his impending demise. Brel actively helped the islanders while writing new chansons (such as the ode to the archipelago Les Marquises) and taking pleasure in the simple existence of Hiva Oa.

He was an enthusiastic pilot who frequently flew to Tahiti to deliver supplies and mail to the isolated Marquesas islands. He went back to Paris in 1978 for chemotherapy, where he passed away. His remains were then brought to Hiva Oa, his home, where he was laid to rest.

Calvaire Cemetery

The Cimetière Calvaire is located on a hill about a 30-minute walk from Atuona’s center. Not only do you get a beautiful view of Taaoa Bay from here, but you can also go to the tombs of the two exiled Marquesans.

The tomb of Paul Gauguin in Calvary Cemetery is marked by a simple round stone bearing his name and the year of his passing. It is located beneath a huge, fragrant frangipani tree, and a copy of his sculpture of Oviri, a woman, stands at the end of the volcanic grave slab.

Brel’s burial is surrounded by beautiful flora of palm trees and flowers and is situated in the lower area at the edge of the cemetery. A bronze plaque with a portrait of Jacques Brel and his Maddly is embedded into the tall headstone, while a second plaque nearby pays poetic tribute to the singer in a brief poem.

Village of Vaitahu

Worth seeing is the village Vaitahu and the church there, which was once built by the Vatican. Here, the beautiful Marquesan carvings and the stained glass window with the Marquesan cross catch the eye.

Carvings can be found all over the Marquesas, but the people of Tahuata are known for their unique filigree carvings and engravings of rosewood, cattle bones, conch shells, and helmet snails. Also, excellent fragrant Mono’i oil is traditionally produced by islanders. Therefore, you should definitely visit the local handicraft market in Vaitahu.

Village of Taaoa

The settlement of Taaoa is located at the base of a spectacular cliff 15 minutes by vehicle from the main village Atuona. The famous Paepae “Upeke” archaeological site is the primary activity in the area. The latter, which is the Tahitian equivalent of the Marae, are the ruins of prehistoric towns that may have served as places of habitation, gathering, or meeting.

Take the time to explore this site where the scale of the life lived in these places is remarkable after you have paid the 300 franc entrance fee to the artisanal fare (used for the site’s upkeep). A guide from the pension would be ideal if you wanted a more detailed overview of the location.

After exploring the area, a trip to the wooden and stone village church is unquestionably worthwhile.

Town of Puamau

We are in the extreme east of the island, at the end of the road. The settlement may be seen beautifully from the top of the pass that leads to it. The journey from Atuona will take at least two and a half to three hours, possibly longer if you want to stop and take pictures along the way and are not accustomed to operating an off-road vehicle on uneven terrain.

Additionally, be sure to check the weather prediction for the day in advance as the route is notorious for being hazardous and slick. Once there, you must stop at the Paepae of Ipona.

There is a sign at the entrance to the village that states that the site is not free due to upkeep costs. Spend some time exploring this historic location and taking in the scenery.

The most significant tikis outside of the Easter Islands are located at Ipona.

Te Ipona, the Marquesas’ largest and most significant historical site

The settlement of Puamau is located in the east of the island, roughly 45 kilometers and two hours journey from Atuona. The Ipona cult site is located 0.9 miles ( 1.5 kilometers) inland from this location. During a visit to Hiva Oa, one must stop by this location in the stunning, verdant valley of Puamau.

The location was used for ceremonies beginning in the 14th century; subsequently, once Catholicism was introduced to the islands, it was severely neglected and nature reclaimed its territory. The platforms were overgrown, and a sizable portion is still submerged beneath the surface of the ground.

However, the site’s most important portion was only fully rebuilt in the 1980s by two French archaeologists. In these enclosed open-air dwellings, five tikis that are over 300 years old can be viewed now. The Tiki Takaii is the largest chief effigy in French Polynesia; it is made of stone and measures 8 ft (2.43 meters).

One of the most significant pieces of art in the Marquesas is the Maki Taua Pepe, which is thought to depict a lady giving birth. We advise getting a guided tour of the location because the instructors are quite knowledgeable about the particular tikis and the meticulous restoration work and can provide you with a vivid insight into a long-forgotten world.

Tahauku Valley has the Tehueto Petroglyphs

The aim is the path here. Hiva Oa’s densely forested hinterland and the Tahauku Valley can be reached by hiking from Atuona to a large boulder that is covered with numerous petroglyphs. An ancient Polynesian civilization left behind symbols and figures etched into basalt. We also advise hiring a guide from the village because the path is partially overgrown.

Island of Tahuata

The smallest inhabited island in the Marquesas is Tahuata. The island, which has a population of roughly 670 people, is only 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from Hiva Oa’s southernmost point, making it the ideal destination for a day excursion.

The principal settlement of Vaitahu on the west coast, with its catholic church, is particularly noteworthy. Stained glass windows and intricate wood carvings can be found here. Following the services, a handicraft fair in front of the church is very worthwhile seeing.

The island’s residents are particularly well-known for their filigree carvings in bone and rosewood as well as on shells. At the market, you may get stunning pendants, tikis, and more for comparatively cheap costs. A revitalizing swim should not be missed after shopping.

A little north of Vaitahu, Kokuu Beach is similarly only accessible by water. The beach is among the most stunning in the entire archipelago, so the quick journey is worthwhile in any case. A desolate harbor with undulating hills and a lush green backdrop is home to the magnificent white sand stretch. You can swim, snorkel, or just relax here and let your soul dangle.

Taaoa Valley’s Tohua Upeke

Tohua Upeke, where French Polynesia’s biggest concentration of ceremonial platforms is located, is located about 7 kilometers to the southwest of Atuona. In the center of the jungle, over a sizable area, there are over a thousand stone platforms (papae) arranged as terraces and a central ceremonial plaza with a tiki.

The majority of the platforms are covered with red ginger, large banyan tree roots, and other vegetation. But several terraces have already undergone restoration. It is also beneficial to hire a guide here in order to navigate the enormous area and get to the most important sights swiftly.

Tanaeka Bay and Hanamenu

Two of the island’s most stunning bays, Tanaeka Bay and Hanamenu Bay, may be found in the extreme northwest of Hiva Oa. Plan a day trip there if you enjoy the water and the sun.

You enjoy a magnificent view of the two neighboring bays from the sea after an about one-hour boat cruise from Atuona. The boat normally docks in Tanaeka Bay; a short footpath leads in 30 minutes to the valley of Hanamenu, which is nearby.

With the exception of a few locals here and there, both valleys are home to ancient Polynesian ritual platforms (paepae). You may unwind in the sun, cool off in the sea, or go snorkeling to see the underwater inhabitants right here on the beaches.

Provisions may be safely stored because you can gorge on fresh coconuts, papayas, mangos, guavas, and grapefruits on the verdant slopes right behind the beaches.

A little natural pool with a waterfall is surrounded by rich flora of fruit trees, palms, and fragrant herbs like mint, just a short distance from Hanamenu Bay in the hinterland. Before going back to the beach, you can cool down in the pristine water here. The perfect day in paradise!

Hiva Oa Island Facts

Hiva Oa is a large island located in the Marquesas Islands archipelago of French Polynesia. It is known for its rugged, mountainous terrain and its rich cultural history. Here are some facts about Hiva Oa:

  1. Hiva Oa is the second-largest island in the Marquesas Islands, and it is located about 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) northeast of Tahiti.
  2. The island is about 63 kilometers (39 miles) long and 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide, and it has a population of about 2,000 people.
  3. Hiva Oa is a volcanic island, and it is characterized by steep cliffs, deep valleys, and rugged mountains. The highest peak on the island is Mt. Muake, which reaches an elevation of 1,230 meters (4,035 feet).
  4. The island is surrounded by a coral reef, which is home to a diverse array of marine life, including dolphins, whales, and sea turtles.
  5. Hiva Oa has a rich cultural history, and it is home to several ancient marae (temples) that were built by the early Polynesian settlers. These marae are considered important cultural landmarks, and they are visited by many tourists who come to Hiva Oa to learn about the island’s history and traditions.
  6. The island is also known for its beautiful beaches, including Puamau Beach, which is considered one of the best beaches in French Polynesia.
  7. The main industry on Hiva Oa is agriculture, and the island is known for producing copra (dried coconut meat), vanilla, and coffee.
  8. Hiva Oa is a popular tourist destination, and visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, including snorkeling, diving, hiking, and exploring the island’s cultural sites.

Hiva Oa image Gallery

Tiki at Hiva Oa

Tiki at Hiva Oa, Image ©Makemake, Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

Horse riding Hiva Oa

Horse riding Hiva Oa, Image ©Remi Jouan, Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

Paul Gauguin tomb

Paul Gauguin tomb, Image ©Jens Bludau, Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

Jacques Brel tomb

Paul Gauguin tomb, Image ©Jens Bludau, Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

Jacques Brel aircraft Jojo

Horse riding Hiva Oa, Image ©Remi Jouan, Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

Road Hiva Oa with rock monument

Horse riding Hiva Oa, Image ©Laurent Seignobos, Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0


Frequently asked Questions

A peculiar small tiki is located in the heart of the forest in Punaei, just ten minutes from the road. It emits light and flashes a wide grin that extends into its eyes. 

Horse riding is without a doubt one of the Marquesas’ must-do activities. Common sights include wild horses leaping through the air or grazing on lush greenery. Some of these horses have been domesticated, making it possible to ride them in peace.

Hiking enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the island’s many paths. Everyone may find something to enjoy among the numerous waterfalls, pitons, fording channels, and natural basins. Scale the Caldera’s cliffs, pause to gather some fruit, and take in the view of Hanapaoa Bay.

The Marquesas Islands’ Hiva Oa airport is some distance from the community of Atuona. Although there is no shuttle service, you can frequently find cabs when you arrive. If not, you will need to travel by vehicle.

The Marquesas have a ton of aquatic attractions, just like the other Polynesian archipelagoes. Numerous dolphins, sharks, and other manta rays seek refuge annually close to the “Jardin des Marquises” due to the abundance of underwater fauna.

Hiva Oa has a population of approx. 2450 inhabitants

The ancient Polynesians called the islands Hiva. The names Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, and Fatu Hiva all contain the word “Hiva,” as do the names of the two largest of the six inhabited islands. (‘Hiva’ could relate to ‘Big Country’ or ‘Black,’ possibly alluding to the volcanic basalt found on the islands.)

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